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Frozen II (2019) Review

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Another sequel snowed under the high quality of the original. The original Frozen was so memorable, in fact, that the sequel seems desperate to rehash elements, rather than remember to tell its own story. The songs and goofy humour have not melted away just yet, and the cast do not let the side down, but the snow feels a lot less fresh, turning into more of slush.

To be fair, the animation has improved over the last six years. The animation is a rainbow of creativity and magic. The animators have captured the beauty of autumn. A particularly impressive element of the CGI in this film: how water is rendered. The characters, particularly Elsa (Idina Menzel), have also been designed to the highest standard, and rendered so that the film looks crisp and well put together.

Most sequels can say that they look better than the original, though; like most sequels, Frozen II falls short in other regards.  Like the original, Robert Lopez return and Kristen Anderson-Lopez deliver the songs. However, there is no “Let It Go” to get stuck in your head this time. The songs are much more forgettable and far less catchy. It is not just the songs that have got worse. Despite Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee returning to direct, the narrative has lost its drive. The film meanders through its obligatory existence. Anna’s  desire to bring her sister home has been swapped for Elsa’s lethargic curiosity about her past. Whilst the fun and energetic humour has not disappeared, this is not enough to justify the existence of a sequel. Grasping to good story is essential. Alas, Buck and Lee let it go.

What makes this worse is the fact the original is rehashed so heavily. Olaf acts out a brief summary at one point. Elsa goes to a cave to literally rehear dialogue from the first film. There is another quest to go on too, as you would expect. Sequels are often worse than the original. If you are going to disappoint, though, at least deliver a more filling plot not so reliant on remembering the original.

Disney rarely releases theatrical sequels to their animated films. If you have ever wondered why most Disney classics have Direct to Video sequels, Frozen II is your answer. The humour and the songs are there, but the season for magic and wonder (and good plotting) has passed.

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Retrospective Reviews: Watchmen (2009)

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With the release of HBO’s Watchmen series, there is no better time to take a retrospective look at Zack Snyder’s Watchmen from 2009. Adapted from Alan Moore’s DC Vertigo graphic novel of the same name, there is a lot to like about this film. It is not your typical superhero story, with a bold opening, subversion of superhero tropes throughout, and an original style of cinematography to impress from start to finish. You may not be enjoying the HBO series, but do not let that dampen your enjoyment of this underrated gem.

One rarely feels the need to talk about the credits in a review of a movie, but you have to with Watchmen. It is a novel idea: the credits provide 3D snapshots of the relevant context leading up to the film’s main events, with the camera dollying through them. All of this plays out to the sound of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin'”, the first of many superb soundtrack choices. This is a brilliant choice for two reasons. One, the relevant context depicted is an alternative history, so history is changing. Two, it is a song about political change for the better, so there is a sad irony, a defeatism, to it being played as we watch this alternative history take such a dark route. It is a great way to get the audience up to speed without relying on exposition. Many DCEU fans hoped Snyder, the director of Watchmen and many of the DCEU films, would use this idea to world-build as an alternative to Marvel’s post-credit scenes, and it is easy to see why.

Off the back of a powerful, shocking opening, Watchmen hooks you from the start. It is one of the superhero genre’s greatest weaknesses that one always feels like “the superhero won’t die”, no matter what happens. Yet, Watchmen opens with the cold blooded murder of a superhero; a murder that serves as a springboard for the noir style story to come. Not only is The Comedian murdered, but he is murdered brutally, with some painful choreography during the fight, and he is murdered in his own home, in his dressing gown, when you would expect a superhero to be at their safest. The opening feels like a violation of everything we have come to expect about superhero films, making it one of the most memorable openings in the genre as a whole.

This subversion of the superhero genres continues throughout, particularly with The Comedian. Watchmen is R-Rated, ten years  before R-Rated superhero films were in vogue. It is easy to see why. After the brutal murder, we a flashback of The Comedian as he attempts to rape Silk Spectre. We also see him murder a Vietnamese woman pregnant with his child. Changing our perspective of the opening murder immediately, we have to wonder: this particular superhero had it coming, right? We also see him getting drunk and crying, using his old arch nemesis as a shoulder to cry on, changing our perspective of him again. The subversion does not just apply to The Comedian. Superhero characters get unmasked, they are depicted having sex, and even the ending takes an unexpected route. If you are getting tired of formulaic superhero films, Watchmen is the film for you.

Added to this is some impressive and creative cinematography. The first shot of Adrian is depicted through the small screen on a camera. The dolly zooms into the smiley face badge are memorable and suggest its symbolic significance. A giant Dr. Manhattan appears in an Apocalypse Now style shot of the Vietnam landscape, with the orange sky and helicopters serving as a backdrop. Another shot is fixed as it depicts Rorschach approaching a criminal, but we only see suggestive glimpses as the door between them and the camera keeps swinging open and closed. This may be a film adaptation of a graphic novel, but that does not mean it has to be any less creative in its telling of the story.

The new television series may be dividing fans, but at least fans have this visceral adaptation of the original work to admire. The cinematography is fun and imaginative. The superhero genre is subverted throughout. Even if you do not like the whole film, the opening, and even the credits, will arrest your attention. Who watches the Watchmen? The answer is you should.

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The Good Liar (2019) Review

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The opening credits aptly summarises the film. The credits are typed on a loud typewriter. It sounds as tired as it is cliched. Yet, it looks good. The lighting is striped and slanted. It looks like a street lamp illuminating a wall on a dark street. It looks good, despite being quite boring and unexciting. (It is also seemingly irrelevant, as none of the main characters write, and both of them are tech savy enough to be using a dating app in the very next scene.)The Good Liar fits this description too. It is remarkably well polished, but there is very little to excite.

It goes without saying that the performances from the two leads are the film’s strongest assets. Ian McKellen, in particular, offers a splendid performance as Roy Courtnay. The way he changes from sweet to callus is as masterful and expertly controlled as one would expect. It is a joy to watch. Helen Mirren is also superb. Seeing these two masters of acting together for the first time is a good reason to come and see this film.

However, the rest of the film fails to maintain interest. Like the opening credits, it plods along slowly and without demanding attention, despite looking good. There are some creative shots, particularly depicting McKellen. The camera dollies in and out of his face at one point, and arcs around it in the next. The action in this film is well-choreographed, particularly the struggle for the gun, or the scene in the butchers. Scenes like this prove you do not need an bombastic score and fast paced editing to build tension (although, the score in this film is stimulating and memorable, as it should be in a thriller). With its two stars and interesting cinematography, you would think this film would work.

Yet, it does not. There are too many plots and twists for genuine interest to truly develop. The best demonstration of this, without spoiling the film, is the characterisation of Courtnay. One minute he is a violent gangster like figure. The next he is a sly con man. Whilst a good opportunity to demonstrate McKellen’s range, it feels like two characters rolled into one. Also, these plots depicting Courtnay as a violent criminal do not satisfactorily tie in with the main plot: the scam. This scam is then turned on its head by a twist. You do not see this twist coming, but is that because the story is well-told or because, by the end, you struggle to care?

This film is well-polished, with great performances and an appealing style about the cinematography. The score is thrilling too, and there is a good idea for a plot twist in there. Sadly, the rest of the film does not hold up. Perhaps a focus on the main plot would have helped make this film more enjoyable. It feels cluttered and plodding. The best liar of them all seems to be the marketer, for convincing the world this would be a memorable film.

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The Aeronauts (2019) Review

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The Aeronauts, from Amazon Studios, realises journeys into the sky are a double edged sword. There is a lot to stare at in wonder, but it is also a trip filled with risk. Both sides are captured to great effect, creating an entertaining film with a strong lead performance from Felicity Jones. It is just a great shame the story seems so desperate to ground itself for much of its run time. Its best moments are in the air, not down on Earth.

You would think a journey into the skies would be a mesmerising and stunning one, and this film does not disappoint. The cinematography captures the beauty of this journey into the air perfectly. Close ups of the sun shining on James (Eddie Redmayne) and establishing shots of the balloon in the air (it getting smaller and more distant each time) look superb. It makes one want to go up there, despite the danger Amelia (Felicity Jones) and James find themselves in.

The cinematography is more than up to the task of capturing the tumultuous and dangerous nature of the air. From the opening, the camera cuts between close ups of the two lead characters, Amelia and James, in distress and cuts to black. The effect is disorientating and chaotic, reminding one of many films where the ship finds themselves in the middle of a storm. Given the fact the title sounds very similar to the word “argonauts”, this is a very apt style to imitate. The perilous nature of the journey is effectively created throughout, with arc shots of the hot air balloon rising into dark clouds, and the Gravity-like shot of the camera spinning in free fall as Amelia falls off the balloon. A memorable score, soft and gentle in moments, constantly rising and swelling in intensity the next, adds much to a surprisingly action packed film. The journey into the air is a thrilling and entertaining one.

Further proof of the brutal nature of the journey can be found in the makeup and effects. The bruises look repulsively real, and when Amelia begins to freeze as the balloon rises further than ever before, she genuinely looks like she is suffering through a living death. The ice in her eyelashes and the changing colour of her skin are neat touches that add authenticity and realism to the drama.

It is such a shame, then, that the film spends so much time on the ground. Jack Thorne’s script is too reliant on flashbacks, as if Thorne did not trust us to maintain interest in a film set only in the confined space of a hot air balloon. The film follows a simple and overused present scene to flashback structure that detracts from the film. The scenes up in the air are when the film soars highest, and if the film spent more time up there, it would have benefited.

Nevertheless, Felicity Jones’ performance as Amelia keeps even the slower, boring moments interesting. She offers a great turn as Amelia, portraying her as a risk taker, but one with intelligence. She comes across as resourceful and smart, but also defiant and willing to have fun. She brings a lot of charisma to the film, making up for a bit of an underwhelming performance from Eddie Redmayne, who is playing the same awkward, brainy type he always seems to play. It is fine, but he brings nothing new nor exciting.

Whilst you do have to sit through the far less exciting flashbacks on the ground, the thrilling scenes in the sky more than make up for it. There is a sense of wonder and a sense of danger, carefully balanced throughout the sequences set in the sky. Holding both halves of the film together is a show-stealing performance from Felicity Jones. What could have been a boring historical drama is elevated to great heights by her performance and very effective cinematography. This is a film to see as soon as possible, before it floats away out of cinemas.

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Doctor Sleep (2019) Review

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Doctor Sleep was created under two shadows. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and Stephen King‘s two novels (sharing titles with the films) are both adored and considered classics. It would be easy for this new film by Mike Flanagan to get overshadowed by such cultural touchstones. At some points, it does feel that way, as the set up goes on for way too long, and the villain is not particularly threatening. However, once the film gets going, it is a gripping horror, with a strong cast and writing, in its own right.

The film is two and a half hours long. During the first hour, you really feel it. The pacing is slow, and most of the plot threads here are uninteresting and unconnected to the main story, depicting the grown up Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) protecting Abra (Kyliegh Curran) from a vampire-like cult of “shining” eaters. Abra is not properly introduced until nearly fifty minutes in. Yet, her story is central to the plot. Everything before her introduction feels extraneous, unnecessary and boring. The first fifty minutes could have easily been cut down so we can get to the much stronger second half.

The laborious first half is not helped by the fact the villain is not particularly threatening. What made Kubrick’s The Shining so scary was the intangibility of the Onlook Hotel. The sequel has concrete villains, Rose the hat and her cult of vampire-like predators. You can see, touch and hurt them. As a result, the threat levels are not so high. This gets worse in the second half, when it becomes clear none of them are any real threat to Abra. She is slightly too powerful to feel anxious for her safety. A similar problem plagues the Star Wars sequel trilogy, with Rey being way too powerful for Kylo Ren to be considered a threat.

However, whilst the villains get worse in the second half, everything else improves. The performances really make this movie shine. Ewan McGregor gives a muted but nuanced performance of the traumatised and damaged Danny Torrance. Kyliegh Curran is further proof that child actors do not necessarily have to be a detriment to a film. She possesses superb screen presence as Abra. Carl Lumbly is an excellent casting choice for Dick Hallorann too. If it were not for the passing of a few decades, Lumbly could have easily sold himself as being the same actor to play Dick Hallorann in the last Shining movie. The performances just about hold your interest during a boring first half, and shine brightly once the second half begins.

Once it does, the promised tension, horror and scares are delivered. The score has a sleepy creepiness to it that enhances some really well put together scenes. One notable example is the scene when Abra uses the shining in her bed. The scene is put together like an intense serious of still frames, heightened by the score. There are effective uses of body horror too, such as Rose using the axe on Danny, or when Rose’s fingers get trapped in a filing cabinet.

Doctor Sleep also pays satisfying homage to Kubrick’s The Shining. Despite primarily being a faithful adaptation of Stephen King’s two books, the film also draws a lot from Kubrick. The opening shot of Danny on the tricycle is taken from the original, for example. Scenes of Danny in an office, or him sitting across from the bartender in the infamous hotel bar, serve as fun trips down memory lane. The tributes to the previous film turn into a bit of an obsession towards the end, as the twins, the chase through the icy hedge maze, and flashbacks to Jack Torrance attacking his wife Wendy, are just randomly thrown into the film, adding even more to its length. Nevertheless, most of the call backs to the past are tasteful, subtle, and appreciated.

Doctor Sleep is a good film that could have done with a more rigorous editor. Most of the first hour did not really need to be so drawn out. Perhaps taking out a few of the scenes where Abra easily defeats this cult of vampires could have improved the film too, as the villains would have felt more like a threat. However, other than these nitpicks, Doctor Sleep proves to be a worthy sequel. Delivering its own scares, providing great performances, and paying homage to the original film without being too dependent on it, Doctor Sleep is a worthwhile way to celebrate Halloween this weekend.

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Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) Review

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Unlike a machine, this film series was starting to get a little tired. Rise of the Machines, Salvation, and Genisys were all lacklustre and forgettable in comparison to the gems that came before it. As a result, no one was that excited when Terminator: Dark Fate was announced. Yet, the return of James Cameron, as producer, and Linda Hamilton, created cautious hope among old fans. Whilst it may not prove a defining action film of the 2010s, it is a solid Terminator that delivers where many of the previous sequels failed.

Following from the previous post, it is hard to say whether Terminator: Dark Fate actually does modernise the Terminator concept. The fact it can duplicate itself and take on other people’s identities may speak to fears surrounding identity, over not really knowing who you are talking to online. But the T-1000 could do that, so the only new thing about Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) is the duplication. To be fair, this is a cool concept perfectly realised. The clashes between Grace and Rev-9 are thrilling; a lot of fun to watch, whether you are new to, or familiar with, the series. The fight choreography and the chase sequences are filled with the adrenaline and sense of urgency that made the first two films so entertaining. Rev-9 going down as one of the more memorable villains of the decade is unlikely, but it is definitely a worthy adversary to keep us on the edge of our seats for two hours.

One thing that can be said with certainty is that this film looks to the past, a lot. The new threat does move on from Skynet, to a new AI villain called Legion, but its plan, and thus the premise of the film, is taken straight from Skynet and the original film. Also, there are many call backs to the original two films: “I’ll be back”, Linda Hamilton returns as Sarah Connor, as badass as ever, and Arnie does not miss out on the reunion party (he refuses to wear the sunglasses this time, though). This is a film attempting to woo back fans of the series with nostalgia. Fortunately, it is not too much, and every recourse to the past is justified. An cameo from a past character is not what you would expect, and is used to create an extremely powerful opening- particularly shocking for fans of the series, but still startling if you don’t know the context. Further, it also addresses a hole in Skynet’s plan many fans have noticed in the decades following James Cameron’s masterpieces. It is a great opening, and a nostalgic call back done right. (The fact the story of this film, and its production credits, go to James Cameron himself, explains a lot.) This film does bathe in the past and provides a lot of fan service, but it is not overbearing, and most of it is justified.

The film does move the franchise forward, though. Reyes and Davis are flawed, likeable, and as strong as the new characters, Daniella and Grace. Welcome additions to the cast, they bring a lot of emotion to the action and the spectacle. You want them to survive and succeed as much as they do. Linda Hamilton takes Sarah Connor into new, darker territory magnificently, whilst also balancing that out with humour and sass. She really is the star of the show, and never allows for the criticism the she is just repeating her performances from the first two films.

The humour, the action, and the character-driven plot all add up to an electrifying sixth film for the franchise (“third” film in the series chronology). Sixth films in a series are rarely this good. It may not be revolutionary, or prove to be a defining film of the decade, but this is easily the best Terminator film since Terminator 2: Judgement Day; a film that can please the fans and wow newcomers at the same time.

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Trailers (My Thoughts)

Recently, I have been rewatching all the Star Wars movies in chronological order, including all the films outside all the main nine episodes. With the release of a new trailer, and a trailer from a couple of months ago, for the closing episode of the entire saga, I should feel more excited. Sadly, I don’t.

Not because I hated Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In fact, I am part of that small faction within the fandom that enjoyed the controversial changes and subversions to the established formula. Rather, The Rise of Skywalker seems less exciting because it deliberately trying to reverse these controversial changes. Palpatine’s return seems to be a direct response to the criticism over Snoke’s death, for example. The trailers for Episode IX, so far, have felt like apologies for the last film, which is hardly the most exciting message to send.

Trilogies are meant to build momentum, and feed off the emotion and enjoyment you felt for the last two. There are meant to be high stakes as the third film is meant to be the boiling point for all the developing storylines so far. Star Wars Episode IX’s trailer gives us none of that. The trailer is vage on plot details, showing only cool shots, impressive special effects, and hints towards character growth, all to the familiar Star Wars score. It wants us to feel like The Last Jedi never happened.

Further, this desire to appear more familiar and less subversive than The Last Jedi creates for an uneven tone across the whole trilogy. The Force Awakens heavily borrowed from A New Hope and effectively created an appealing feel of nostalgia. The Last Jedi wanted to take the series in a new and unexpected direction. This latest film appears to be going back to the nostalgia and sameness of The Force Awakens. It is hard to get excited when the phrase “the saga concludes” appears on screen because this part of the saga does not feel cohesive, neither in tone nor direction. This does not feel like a big finale; rather, it just feels like the third of Disney’s Star Wars episodes.

From the trailer, it does seem like it will be a solid episode in its own right. There is an impressive shot of Kylo Ren walking through the rain. The shots of spacecrafts promise skeptical. The shots of Kylo and Rey together tease possible, interesting avenues for the character development of both characters.

Whilst it may feel like a solid Star Wars film that I have no doubt will be a success, this film trailer does not sell The Rise of Skywalker as a conclusive finale to a cohesive trilogy. Instead, the trailer feels like a “let’s start again? I’m sorry” message. The wrong message to send for the final film in a nine part saga.

Luce (2019) Review

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Despite a seemingly low-stakes premise, this thriller is worth your time. It has thought provoking things to say about some key issues, and still finds the time to keep you invested with gripping twists and turns. Great performances and a memorable score, too, work to make this thriller well worth your time.

The performances are fantastic across the board. Kelvin Harrison Jr. offers the strongest and most layered one as Luce. He can never be placed nor figured out: is that genuine friendliness, or does one detect a hidden anger? This reflects the dual nature of his name: “Luce” meaning “light”, but also short for Lucifer. Is he being truthful or deceptive? One never truly knows, and this mystery keeps you hooked. Octavia Spencer plays his suspicious teacher, determined to get to the truth of Luce’s behaviour. Naomi Watts and Tim Roth play Luce’s two torn parents, struggling to work out whether they truly know their son or not. Every character feels alive and real, and we have performances from a high calibre cast of actors.

So strong are the performances, even the weakest lines of dialogue seem convincing. Regardless, the dialogue could have been much stronger. Based on a play by JC Lee of the same name, you would think the dialogue and the script would be the film’s strongest asset. Yet, many of the lines come across as overly theoretical and contrived. The characters are frequently making good points, but feel essayistic, and inorganic. Another problem is that the script wants to discuss important issues, such as institutional racism, sexual assault and mental health care, and can provoke a lot of thought on these subjects at moments, but the film does not discuss any of them with any depth. Perhaps the film would have benefited from focusing on one, and then have the characters talk about it in a more natural way.

Nevertheless, there is a lot to like here. The score is very effective at creating tension and raising the stakes. This film has been described as a thriller, but if you read a summary of the plot, you may wonder why. No one dies. The main characters are not at risk of a mental breakdown. There is nothing supernatural about the story. In comparison to other thrillers, the stakes will seem quite down to earth and realistic. Instead of finding a gun in a student locker, fireworks are found. Instead of lives, jobs and university places are on the line. Yet, the score keeps tension building. The performances, as said, are superb, and help keep you invested in them and the mystery of whether to believe Luce or Mrs. Wilson. The twists and turns provide a rollercoaster ride, despite the seemingly low-scale plot.

With an interesting mystery to solve and various twists along the way, this thriller is certain to grab your interest and hold it well, even when the dialogue does falter. Backed up by strong performances and a memorable score, Luce is definitely worth a watch.

Retrospective Reviews: A Quiet Place (2018)

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Few horror films made today stick with you in quite the same way as A Quiet Place. It is memorable for its unbearable suspense. Telling the story of a family which must maintain constant silence to stay safe in a world filled with predators roaming a post-apocalyptic world. The opening effectively sets the dystopian, brutal tone. With strong performances, a simple but effective premise, and an incessant sense of anxiety, this is a horror to be remembered.

The central premise of the film is that all the characters have to avoid making noise. If they keep quiet, they will be able to live their lives without threat from the roaming monsters which now dominate the American landscape. As this film masterfully exploits, keeping quiet is difficult. Very difficult. As a result, the film leaves the viewer constantly feeling anxious. Every sound used is effective and amplified by the silence. A simple knock of a glass bottle becomes one of the most impactful jump scares in recent memory. Evelyn (Emily Blunt) is a pregnant mother too, serving as a time bomb in an atmosphere already leaving us with a crippling sense of tension.

This tone is set up with a gripping and brutal opening. We get poignantly dystopian shots of a civilisation collapsed. Empty supermarkets and forgotten streets. A toy is turned on and tragedy strikes the family, in a ruthless and shocking death that comes and goes as quickly as the predators. The stakes are real, and the film maintains this momentum, and all the scares.

Despite the desolation, there is something hopeful and moving about the Abbott family making do and bonding together through this tough environment. John Krasinski is not just a director with a craftsman’s control of suspense. He is also one of the lead actors, portraying Lee Abbot as  a practical but caring father. Emily Blunt plays Evelyn, conveying the agony and strength of her character credibly. The two child actors, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe, also deliver solid performances as children shaped by, and adapted to, a hostile environment. Despite the brutal horror, the family moments add a lot of emotional weight to this film. An emotional weight that pays off in the final act with yet another crushing twist.

The family are very likeable and you want them to survive. Sadly, this is not guaranteed. Krasinski has created a suspenseful film set in a perilous post-apocalyptic landscape. Everything is silent, survival depending on the quiet, until a mistake is made, and you are forced to jump out of your seat. This is a horror that sticks with you. Once the credits roll, the only sound you can hear are cries for A Quiet Place 2.

Retrospective Reviews: The Star Wars Prequels (1999-2005)

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The Star Wars prequel trilogy gets a lot of hate. Yes, there is some bad acting, childish humour, and some truly unconvincing dialogue, but this hate still feels undeserved. The bad is balanced out by the good- ironically, the ultimate goal of the protagonists in this saga. Some of the most creative villains ever put to screen, exciting battles and a remarkably well told story more than make up for the flaws just described.

Of course, the prequel trilogy gets a lot wrong. Jar Jar Binks is as annoying and unfunny as everyone says. His portrayal is borderline negative racial stereotyping as well, particularly with the long ears and the Caribbean accent. There is not much that can be said in defence of this character, other than the fact he is steadily phased out during the later part of the trilogy. Jar Jar Binks also represents a larger problem of quite childish humour throughout. However, this is easier to defend. The prequel trilogy came out over a decade after the original trilogy concluded. George Lucas had a choice: make films that only appeal to the older fans, or try to sell the magic of Star Wars to a much younger audience as well. Including characters and humour aimed at children could have been done with more balance, but their inclusion was ultimately necessary.

The performances in these films are bad. Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor are uncharacteristically weak. Whilst Ewan McGregor’s “you’re the chosen one” speech and Natalie Portman’s confession of love in Attack of the Clones are well-delivered and add a lot of emotional weight to their respective scenes, but generally they are at their weakest. Hayden Christensen is also clunky and inexperienced. It is like he is acting with no preconceived idea of what makes good acting. He probably should not have been cast in the role. Only Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon offers a saving grace on the acting front. The rest of it is bad.

To be fair to Christensen, he was not given great dialogue. The infamous “I hate sand” compliment is tough to digest; although, there is something realistic about the corny badness of the chat up line. We’ve all complimented people we find attractive, but not all of us are Shakespeare. Still, it is a bad line. Having one of Darth Vader’s first moments be plagued by a cheesy bellow of the word “nooooooooo!” was an unwise creative choice. The dialogue was also unconvincing. Real people do not talk like this- surely someone on set realised this?

However, everything the prequel trilogy gets wrong is balanced out by what it gets right.

The story is told with a masterful control of audience knowledge and expectation. Anakin’s story is so engrossing precisely because it is being told in the prequel trilogy. There is a tragic sense of inevitability throughout the trilogy. Every decision Anakin makes is given extra weight because we know it is another step on his journey towards the dark side. Knowing Palpatine is the Emperor also adds another layer of enjoyment to the prequels. Every decision made in his favour frustrates us because we have the benefit of hindsight which the characters do not have. Further, the famous Order 66 sequence works so well because we know the Jedi will eventually be wiped out. When we see them getting attacked by the clones, we have no hope for them. The sequence has a very despairing and despondent tone. The story plays with audience knowledge perfectly.

The overarching story never dominates each particular film, though. Despite having a narrative cohesion the sequel trilogy can only dream to possess ( The Rise of Skywalker does not feel like a grand finale to an epic story in the same vein as Revenge of the Sith), each episode of the prequels feels standalone with its own superb villain and thrilling set pieces. Of course, Dooku, Maul and Grievous were never going to touch the iconic status of Darth Vader, but you have to admire the creativity behind these villains. George Lucas could have given up and simply used established villains from the original trilogy- the films would have been a success. Yet, he chose to give us a dual lightsaber wielding athletic apprentice of the Sith, a separatist rebelling against the established order of the Republic, and a living being/robot hybrid with an insecure desire to prove he is as powerful as any Jedi. Grievous has a very memorable walk and design- in fact, all the villains are memorable in their own way. This is probably helped by the fact they all take part in excellent action sequences that are filled with tension: the lightsaber duel between Maul, Qui Gon and Obi Wan; Count Dooku vs. Yoda; the chase between Obi Wan and General Grievous. These films are just so entertaining and memorable.

The Star Wars prequels are weak movies. Poorly directed, some of the creative choices are baffling. The performances elicited are weak, and the casting of Hayden Christensen was a poor choice. However, under this cracked surface is a gripping story that you cannot take your eyes from as you watch it unfold, and some thrilling action between memorable characters, good and bad. Give the prequels a second chance.

The Addams Family (2019) Review

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On paper, this film should have worked. There is a star-studded cast, a decent score, and it is modernising a beloved franchise: giving it an animated makeover and updating its story for the 21st century. Sadly, it does not work.

The casting director has put together a star-studded cast. Oscar Isaac plays Gomez, Charlize Theron plays Morticia, Chloe Grace Mortez and Finn Wolfhard play the two children. Unfortunately, it is not realised to its full potential. If you did not google the cast beforehand or saw none of the advertising, you would not be able to tell that these high calibre actors are in the movie. They offer boring performances utterly devoid of life and energy, dressed up in generic European accents.

The animation style is equally dry. Whilst the creative decision to take inspiration from the original cartoons from the New Yorker, published between 1938 and 1988, is a good idea, for the characters look great, the successful creative decisions end there. The rest of the characters are unoriginal stereotypes of what normal people look like. They have no memorable personality traits in either their character or in their design. The animation style in general lacks personality. These are supernatural characters. This provides the perfect excuse to get creative. The directors could have crazy, random things happening in the background, or subtly play with the character designs throughout the film, or anything. Yet, the animation style is static, as if the tap of creativity stopped working once the basic designs for the Addams family were created. This may be an animated version of the Addams family, but they are not animated.

There are some good ideas for updating the Addams family for the 21st century. Margaux (Allison Janney) is a reality TV show host acting as the fact for a home renovation show, and wants to renovate the Addams family home. When she does not get her own way, she uses social media to spread lies and rumours, ultimately to rally a mob against the family. This is a good idea for bridging an eighty one year old source material with issues in the present day. However, the only slightly memorable aspect of this film is the score. The rest of it is dull, meaning you ultimately do not care very much about what the film has to say about social media culture.

With a cast of actors uncharacteristically not on form and a boring animation style, there is not much to get excited about here. The Addams Family will continue to be remembered as a TV show with iconic film adaptations following in the 1990s. This film will be a good chance to get a Pointless answer on the BBC quiz show, if anyone cares to remember it. These characters may be ghouls, but that is no excuse for such a lifeless movie.